Music

Johnny Cash's 1965 Stay at the Starkville City Jail Gets Commemorated With a Mississippi Country Music Trail Marker

ASSOCIATED PRESS

As you often hear in debates about classic country music's supposed authenticity, Johnny Cash didn't really shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. The Man in Black lived some of his songs, though, considering he really did spend a night in the Starkville City Jail.

After a performance at Mississippi State University, Cash, June Carter Cash and their band stayed at the still-open University Motel. In the early morning hours of May 11, 1965, Cash was caught outside picking flowers after the city's curfew and arrested on charges of public drunkenness, trespassing onto private property and, per an historic deep dive by Rolling Stone, indecent exposure.

Cash spent the night at the Oktibbeha County Jail and was released after paying a $36 fine. Cash was symbolically pardoned at the city's Johnny Cash Flower Pickin' Festival in 2007 and $36 was given back to his daughter, Cindy.

Rolling Stone adds that Cash got so angry about being locked up that he kicked his cell door until he broke a toe. Upon his release, Cash gave his shoes to a 15-year-old cellmate, saying, "Here's a souvenir. I'm Johnny Cash."

Cash's anger gave way to forgiveness in this chapter of his redemption story.

"He invited the policeman who arrested him to one of his shows later on," former Cash bandmate Marty Stuart told Rolling Stone. "It was all in good-natured fun and a grateful way, an easy way, to say, 'Thank you for saving my life maybe that night.'"

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The song's been commemorated by more than its inclusion on Cash's At San Quentin album. In May 2021, the Mississippi Country Music Trail Commission unveiled a trail marker at the site where local law enforcement caught Cash drunkenly picking flowers.

It's the 35th marker on a trail that honors Jimmie Rodgers, Charley Pride, Faith Hill and others.

"He'd have a sense of humor about it because it wasn't the greatest night of his life, but redemption was a big part of his life," Stuart said at the marker's unveiling (as quoted by ABC affiliate KAIT). "So, I think he'd understand that. His presence, even though he's been gone almost 20 years now, still inspires people."

"Starkville City Jail" Lyrics

Well, I left my motel room, down at the Starkville Motel
The town had gone to sleep and I was feeling fairly well
I strolled along the sidewalk beneath the sweet magnolia trees
I was whistlin', picking flowers, swaying in the Southern breeze
I found myself surrounded; one policeman said: "That's him
Come along, wild flower child. Don't you know that it's two a.m
They're bound to get you
Because they got a curfew
And you go to the Starkville City jail

Well, they threw me in the car and started driving into town
I said: "What the hell did I do?" He said: "Shut up and sit down"
Well, they emptied out my pockets, took my pills and guitar picks
I said: "Wait, my name is..." "Awe shut up." Well, I sure was in a fix
The sergeant put me in a cell, then he went home for the night
I said: "Come back here, you so and so; I ain't being treated right
Well, they're bound to get you
Because they got a curfew
And you go to the Starkville City Jail

I started pacing back and forth, and now and then I'd yell
And kick my forty dollar shoes against the steel floor of my cell
I'd walk awhile and kick awhile, and all night nobody came
Then I sadly remembered that they didn't even take my name
At 8 a.m. they let me out. I said: "Gimme them things of mine!
They gave me a sneer and a guitar pick, and a yellow dandelion
They're bound to get you
Because they got a curfew
And you go to the Starkville City Jail
Go to the Starkville City Jail

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Johnny Cash's 1965 Stay at the Starkville City Jail Gets Commemorated With a Mississippi Country Music Trail Marker